Nasri ready to fight for time at City
Samir Nasri is the newest high profile addition to the Manchester City project. (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Unlike the case of Carlos Tévez, there was no billboard in the center of Manchester welcoming the newest housemate when he decided to move in with the noisy neighbors. Instead, Samir Nasri was shown upstairs at the club's headquarters where he briefly exchanged a few words with Patrick Vieira before entering the office of Gary Cook, the Manchester City chief executive. "How are you, brother?" he asked, patting the player on the back.
With his transfer from Arsenal finally complete and the ink not yet dry on a four-year contract, Nasri becomes the club's fourth new recruit of the summer and takes their spending to a staggering $119 million. Told by Vieira that "City are the club of the future", one doesn't need a degree in astronomy to see that the blue moon just keeps on rising.
Frustrated at Arsenal, Nasri joins former teammates Kolo Touré and Gaël Clichy in a personal search for the silverware that has so far been conspicuous by its absence from his club career.
In the interviews he often gave to France Football in Café Rouge on Hampstead High Street last season, Nasri revealed how, after being overlooked by his national team for the World Cup, he had never felt the hunger to win a major trophy so strongly.
In the first half of last season, la faim showed. Up until Christmas, Nasri was arguably the best player in the Premier League. But a hamstring injury suffered in January threw a spanner in the works, and in the meantime, Arsenal's season began to unravel.
Four-nil up and apparently cruising at half time away to Newcastle on February 5, they infamously collapsed in the aftermath of Abou Diaby's red card and drew 4-4.
Then came the Carling Cup final and with it the calamitous late defeat to Birmingham City, which was followed just a week later by their knock out from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona.
At that stage Arsenal were second in the Premier League only three points behind leaders Manchester United and still had a shot at the title. Yet a run of two wins, five draws and three defeats from their final 10 games meant they finished fourth and a chorus of boos rang out after the Gunners last home game of the season against Aston Villa.
With the trophy cabinet gathering dust at the Emirates since the FA Cup was placed there in 2005, and the departure of captain Cesc Fàbregas an open secret, Nasri, with a year left on his existing deal, had some thinking to do and began to seriously question the club’s ambition.
Interviewed by L'Équipe on Thursday, the 24-year-old from Marseille gave an insight into why he did not prolong his stay at Arsenal beyond three seasons.
"We started talking in October but by June I did not have any news and I didn't see anything happening in the transfer market. There comes a time when you have to invest," he said.
The lure of City, bolstered by their triumph in the FA Cup in May and the knowledge that participation in this season's Champions League was already assured, simply proved too much for Nasri to resist even if a place in the starting XI is not guaranteed, something to which Clichy can attest after he found himself on the bench against Bolton following Roberto Mancini's decision to start with Aleksandar Kolarov instead.
"You have to take risks in life," he repeated to L'Équipe. "I am not afraid to do so. There is a big squad here but competition is good, it makes you push yourself and stops you from becoming stale." Asked if that were the case at Arsenal, Nasri replied: "Perhaps."
David Silva pulls the strings for City's puppet, a role that calls into question how Samir Nasri will fit with his new club. (Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
How he fits into Manchester City's plans, especially in light of David Silva's virtuoso role in the team's orchestra and his scintillating start to the season, is the subject of much debate. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport's supplement Extra Time on Tuesday, Mancini indicated that with a campaign to be fought on four fronts, City need quality and quantity.
"I need something else in midfield because we have limited options,” he complained. “I have Barry, De Jong, Milner and Yaya Touré - but if you consider the number of games in the league, the Champions League and the FA Cup that is not enough."
Another interview, this time on the club's website, however, suggests Mancini sees City's new No. 19 and the 10th Frenchman in their history as more than just a squad player.
Pressed on whether Nasri and Silva can start in the same team, the City manager, who hasn't had this much talent at his disposal in midfield since his 2006 Inter side featured Luís Figo and Juan Sebastián Verón, quickly grew animated and said: "Yeah, sometimes you can play one left and one right. Still they are not wingers, but David always starts like a winger. After he goes in the middle and plays where the ball is near the striker."
Watching Silva pull Bolton apart at the Reebok last Sunday in a 3-2 win, a few things stood out in relation to how he might complement Nasri. When not taking up a position between the lines in City's 4-2-3-1 formation, the Spain international showed a proclivity for moving deeper towards the ball, his runs drawing opposition defenders out of position.
This was a trait of Nasri's game at Arsenal, particularly during his first season. Indeed, Wenger initially criticized his young charge for being "a bit too much attracted to the ball." Since then, however, he has developed into a slightly different proposition.
"I play more on the defenders' shoulders," Nasri told France Football in December, a element of his play, which can perhaps be traced in the number of times he was caught offside last season, the figure rising to 11 from just 6 in the 2009-10 campaign.
"Sometimes I behave like a striker in my calls for the ball," he added. "Before I was rather the kind of player who went towards the ball. Today, I have diversified my play. I am a lot more of a finisher, more relaxed in my final gesture."
Nasri showed those attributes in great style earlier in December with a stunning brace against Fulham. For his first, he feinted twice, leaving two defenders on their backsides before blasting past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. For his second, he ghosted through the backline again, deftly jinking the ball past the Fulham No. 1 then swiveling like a ballerina to score from an acute angle.
It was the highlight of a season in which Nasri found the net 15 times and the sort of skill City fans will want to see on a regular basis at Eastlands.
Concerns that he will step on Silva's toes in the middle of the park, even though the Spaniard started 15 times on the left and 14 times on the right last season, should also be allayed by the polyvalent nature of his play, the likelihood that they will interchange, and the memory that the France international managed to co-exist with Fàbregas.
"It's not a problem for me to play on the right, the left or in the middle, because I am not in a fixed position," Nasri said during his time at Arsenal, though he also admitted that "when you're given the possibility to play in the middle again, there are loads of solutions that open up to you because you are in more space."
Even so, it's a nice problem for Mancini to have on his hands.
As if possessing one great passer in Silva wasn't enough, he now has another whose completion rate in the opposition's half last season, a stat often taken as a benchmark for rating playmakers, was 86.6%.
Whether the Italian gives in to his inner conservatism and keeps one or the other in reserve remains to be seen. Keeping everyone happy will be one of his greatest challenges this season.
Once portrayed as a troublemaker by William Gallas for 'disrespecting' Thierry Henry at Euro 2008 by taking his seat on the team bus, Nasri has defended his reputation. And yet he remains honest enough to recognize that he isn't a saint.
"Just because I am younger doesn't mean that I must shut my mouth and say amen to everything," he claimed.
Facing Gallas when City travel to Tottenham on Sunday would have added another dimension to Nasri's highly anticipated debut, but a calf injury has made his antagonist a doubt for the encounter.
Instead the storyline will be that of a former Arsenal player being involved in a personal North London derby. Nasri scored four goals in three games against Spurs last season, and continuing that habit would provide the perfect start to his City career.